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Ana María Gómez López joins the Vossius Center for three months in August 2020 as a Research Fellow with the project 'Life cycles past, present, and alien: Taphonomy as planetary fossil knowledge'.

About the project

The history of taphonomy: the study of the decay, burial, and fossilization of biological organisms in the present and across geological time. Developed over the course of the last century, taphonomy is now central for surveying the entire postmortem history of life on Earth, from human remains recovered in crime scene investigations to traces of the earliest micro-organisms on this planet—and possibly beyond. The guiding question for my project is: how did taphonomy become a field of inquiry for examining death and its aftermath, both in our immediate context and the distant past? Moreover, how did the physical processes that preserve vestiges of past species and ecosystems become a commensurable unit of analysis across vastly diverse timescales and habitats?

I intend to analyze the origins of taphonomy through the work of three vertebrate paleontologists: Johannes Weigelt (DE, 1890-1948), Ivan Antonovitch Efremov (RU/USSR, 1902- 1972), and Everett Claire Olson (USA, 1910-1993). Their collective efforts in tracing the “life history of a fossil” (to borrow a term by paleontologist Pat Shipman) were key to a holistic understanding of taphonomy as the physical processes that led to the preservation of ancient fauna and flora, as well as to their original environments. Focusing primarily on the period between 1925 and 1975, I wish to identify how this common interest led to the transnational consolidation of taphonomy as a field, pinpointing specific instances and modes of knowledge transfer between Weigelt, Efremov, and Olson, as well as among their broader academic communities in Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

About the researcher

Ana María Gómez López is an artist, writer and researcher whose practice centers on durational works based on self-experimentation and archival research in history of science. Her projects use botanical specimens, prosthetic implants, medical equipment, lens-based media, and recorded sound to expand understandings of corporeal selfhood. Ana María’s works have been exhibited at the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, the Fonds d’art contemporain Genève, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, and the American University Museum, among others. She has held fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, and the Center for Experimental Museology of the V-A-C Foundation. In 2015, she was awarded the Premio Nacional de Artes (National Award in the Arts) by the Universidad de Antioquia and the Colombian Ministry of Culture.

An anthropologist with undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Ana María completed her MFA at the Yale University School of Art and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She was a former resident at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (2017-2018), and an artist-in-residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences.